Montana Supreme Court reverses $35 million child abuse verdict
In September 2018, the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination was hit with a hefty verdict of $35 million in damages for their failure to report the sexual abuse of a young girl in the Thompson Falls congregation. The girl, now in her early 20s, had accused the national organization, based in New York City, of instructing the Montana clergy members to not report her abuse to law enforcement. The girl was the latest in a string of abuses to members of her family beginning as early as the 1990s—the culprit was even expelled from the congregation in 2004 due the allegations, only to be readmitted the following year, and the abuse of the girl continued. According to state law, clergy are exempt from reporting alleged abuse if church doctrine or practice requires confidentiality, so on Sept. 13, the Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed for a reversal of the jury’s decision, despite the victim’s attorney noting such exemptions don’t apply considering congregation officials testified that elders can choose to report child abusers under set church practice. On Jan. 8, the Montana Supreme Court cited the precedent in their 7-0 decision to reverse the $35 million in damages.